British Fashion Council chief calls on the industry to act on their comments against racism

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The chief executive of the British Fashion Council (BFC) told CNBC there is “a huge amount of embarrassment” that it’s taken the global response to the death of George Floyd to make the industry and society reflect and focus on racism. 

Caroline Rush, who has led the not-for-profit industry body since 2009, was speaking after the recent launch of the first ever digital London Fashion Week. She said it’s important for businesses to now follow through on their comments against racism and to make sure action is taken.

“I think everyone has to look at their boards. They have to look at their recruitment processes. They have to actively go out and look at their community. They have to champion and be the supporters and the allies to the individuals within their organization and really reflect, is your business a culture that is welcome to individuals and to minority groups, you know, of all kinds?” she said.

In the U.S., fellow trade association the Council of Fashion Designers of America has also introduced measures to address race and representation after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in the custody of the Minneapolis police which sparked anti-racism protests in the U.S. and around the world. 

The organization’s chairman, acclaimed designer and fashion icon Tom Ford, and president and CEO, Steven Kolb, have urged members “to ensure that they have a racially balanced workforce” and challenged the retail sector of the fashion industry “to ensure that their roster of brands and their product assortment is representative of the Black talent within the industry.”

There have been signs of an increase in representation within parts of the industry over the last few years, especially on global Fashion Week runways. 

According to a recent diversity report by social forum The Fashion Spot, over twice as many nonwhites appeared on the runways in fall 2019 compared with spring 2015, a rise from 17% to almost 40%.

The BFC has announced plans to broaden the diversity of its own board of directors and review its recruitment processes to address the need for greater representation. 

Pandemic’s ‘devastating effect’

It’s estimated that the fashion industry generates $2.5 trillion in global annual revenues, according to Mckinsey. In the U.K. alone, the industry employs 890,000 people and contributed £35 million to GDP in 2019, according to new figures by global forecaster and analyst, Oxford Economics.

Rush told CNBC that there was no doubt that the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic is going to have a “devastating effect” on many individuals and livelihoods, with some businesses having already collapsed.

“Some of them had been able to access the government’s business support scheme, so furlough has been one that has worked I think for pretty much everybody, apart from the freelancers, there are definitely challenges there. But the business interruption loans, the bounce back loans, there’s a very small proportion of our businesses that’s been able to access those,” she said.

In the wake of Covid-19, the first ever digital-only London Fashion Week launched on June 12, when the men’s collection would traditionally be showing. This year’s event, which gave digital online “access to all,” merged men’s and women’s wear for the first time to become gender neutral.

Looking ahead to the next London Fashion Week in September, Rush believes by then there could be more of a hybrid model between digital and physical events, and hopefully some human interaction.

“The part that I very much miss from our digital Fashion Week was that sort of debate, the interaction, the sharing of knowledge and insight. And I think that knowledge transfer that comes of having groups of individuals together at business events like Fashion Week has been underestimated until now,” she said.

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